Huy Tran shares some defining characteristics with San Jose Councilman Lan Diep.
Each one’s a 30-something-year-old first-generation Vietnamese-American who became a lawyer before charting a path to public service. They’re also longtime acquaintances who’ve worked together on local legislation, Diep as a District 4 councilor and Tran as his San Jose Housing and Community Development Commission appointee.
But their political differences inspired Tran—who endorsed Diep in his narrowly-won bid for the D4 seat in 2016—to challenge his re-election in 2020. It’s a race that potentially pits them both against Berryessa Unified School District trustee David Cohen, 50, who told San Jose Inside that he’s still on the fence about a 2020 run.
Diep, a soon-to-be-35-year-old policy wonk with a penchant for showmanship, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Tran said the D4 councilman made clear in a one-on-one meeting that he welcomes the challenge.
“I sat down with him recently and told him,” recounted Tran, 36, who officially announced his candidacy Monday in a press release touting endorsement from Assemblyman Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), a close friend and political mentor. “And it was very amicable because that’s the kind of relationship we have. I said, basically, that I’m running because people deserve choices.”
On that point, Tran said they both agreed.
The choice between Tran and Diep is at once clear and multifaceted. Tran is a Democrat and Diep is the lone Republican on the 11-member City Council. Tran’s work as an employment rights attorney aligns with the values of the labor while Diep has positioned himself as reliably pro-business. Tran advocated for stronger rent control and tenant protections in these past few years as Diep cautioned about infringing on the property rights of landlords and warding away new development.
“This district is expanding so much and so fast, and I just want to make sure we’re balancing that growth with quality-of-life for the people who are already here,” Tran said in a recent interview. “The needs of D4 are very diverse, in that regard.”
And increasingly complicated.
BART’s new course from north San Jose to downtown will spur all kinds of conversations about transit-oriented development and public safety, while rapid construction in North Valley and the continued upward trend in the cost of living will make housing subsidies for lower income levels all the more urgent. Big Tech’s ambitious plans for the watery realm of Alviso—a time capsule of a neighborhood along San Jose’s uppermost edge— will require balancing the city’s economic needs against its environmental obligations.
“San Jose is being transformed by commercial and residential growth,” Tran said, “and this part of the city is a significant piece of that.”
Cohen, who’s in the process of weighing a council campaign against family and work commitments, said his 13 years on the school district have well acquainted him with the challenges and opportunities of the district. With D4 on the verge of massive development, he said it needs a leader who can articulate what the lay of the district should look like in the next decade or more.
“We have so much development around BART and North First Street,” he said, “and while there’s obviously an overarching theme of building housing and being transit-oriented, there’s no cohesive vision of what we want the community to look like.”
That includes a vision about how to tackle homelessness, which has become more visible in the northeastern parts of the city in recent years, Cohen said. And a vision about how the district could set an example when it comes to environmental sustainability.
“We need a council member who’s working toward some solutions and not say that, well, that’s just how the city’s done things,” he said. “We need the kind of leadership that’s collaborative, that makes constituents feel heard.”
This article has been updated.